Sexual problems might mean you have a broken heart, literally. The most common sexual problem in men is erectile dysfunction (ED). ED affects up to 30 million men in the United States. Surprisingly, ED might be a sign of heart problems. It is important to discuss sexual health with your doctor. Not only can your doctor prescribe medications to improve sexual function, but together you may be able to prevent a major heart problem like a heart attack. This article outlines the steps that you should take if you think you have ED.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (46) | Google ScholarSee all References The Princeton Consensus Panel provided guidelines (Table 4) for physicians regarding patients who are being evaluated for their level of risk in resuming sexual activity.51x51DeBusk, R, Drory, Y, Goldstein, I et al. Management of sexual dysfunction in patients with cardiovascular disease: recommendations of the Princeton Consensus Panel. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 62F–68F
Diuretics: Also called water pills, this medication is a common treatment for reducing blood pressure. They work by getting rid of unnecessary water and salt in the urine. This essentially helps lower blood pressure and can make it easier for the heart to pump blood. Unfortunately, diuretics can reduce the blood flow to the penis, making erections difficult to achieve. Zinc levels have been known to diminish due to diuretic use, which may lead to a decreased production of overall testosterone.
 Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are on rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. A very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate for these treatments. These procedures require extensive planning which interfere with sexual spontaneity and are really not a realistic long-term treatment for young patients with permanent ED. 
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References During this period, 130 deaths were reported to the US FDA; 41 of these men died or had cardiac arrest within 4 to 5 hours after taking sildenafil, and 27 died or had cardiac arrest either during or immediately after sexual activity. The average age of these men was 64 years. Of the 77 men in this group who died of documented cardiovascular-related events, 41 died of definite or suspected myocardial infarction, 27 died after cardiac arrest, and 6 had symptoms of cardiac disease at the time of death. Sixteen of the men had taken nitroglycerin or organic nitrates in association with sildenafil; another 3 had nitroglycerin in their possession at the time of death. In 48 men, the cause of death was unknown, and another 3 died of cerebrovascular accidents. Overall, it was concluded that sildenafil was not associated with an excess of cardiovascular death.
DHEA is a hormone made by the human body. It’s a building block for testosterone. According to a study published in Urology, this supplement may be able to help men whose ED is related to having low testosterone. However, there’s no definitive evidence of this benefit. It’s clear that DHEA can cause various side effects, including liver damage and acne. Long-term use of DHEA can also cause hormonal imbalances.

Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References By 1996, fueled by the availability of the new oral agent sildenafil, the number of outpatient visits for ED as estimated by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey had increased to 1.3 million per year.5x5Feldman, HA, Johannes, CB, Derby, CA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Prev Med. 2000; 30: 328–338


When it comes to combating heart disease, most information sources promote drugs and surgery as the only viable options, with lip service to dietary advice that simply does not work. As a result, the demand for high-tech, expensive, but largely ineffective medical care is soaring, causing medical costs and insurance rates to skyrocket. This chase for "cures" is both financially devastating and futile. Morbidity and premature mortality from heart disease continue to rise, with no sign of abating.

A substantial body of literature documents the prevalence of ED in men with diabetes. Unfortunately, the majority of these studies do not distinguish between type 1 and type 2 disease, and, therefore, it is difficult to determine if prevalence rates between the two forms of diabetes differ significantly. Acknowledging this limitation in the literature, prevalence estimates of ED in cross-sectional studies of diabetic populations range from 20 to 71% (Table 1). Most of these studies did not control for severity of disease, duration of disease, or control of hyperglycemia.
The cardiovascular adverse effects of sildenafil use have been studied extensively. Phosphodiesterase type 5, although located primarily in the genitalia, also can be found throughout the systemic vasculature, although other PDEs predominate there10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
Your doctor may also choose to lower your dose of certain medications. Or your provider may switch the type of drug you’re taking if it’s interfering with your sex life. Some medicines used for managing blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, depression, seizures and prostate problems increase the risk for erectile dysfunction. Beta-blockers (for high blood pressure), SSRIs (often used to treat depression) and the class of drugs called benzodiazepines (like Ativan, Xanax, Librium and Valium) are commonly tied to ED. You may want to speak to your doctor about this.
Ohlsson C,  Barrett-Connor E,  Bhasin S,  Orwoll E,  Labrie F,  Karlsson MK,  Ljunggren O,  Vandenput L,  Mellström D,  Tivesten A. High serum testosterone is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular events in elderly men. The MrOS (Osteoporotic Fractures in Men) study in Sweden, J Am Coll Cardiol , 2011, vol. 58 (pg. 1674-1681)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2011.07.019
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Nitrates have only modest antianginal effects and offer no prognostic benefit for mild recurrent angina or unstable angina. Therefore, such anginal symptoms occurring after sildenafil use should be treated with other nonnitrate antianginal agents such as β-blockers.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N

If you have several atherosclerotic risk factors or symptoms of heart disease, your doctor might do additional tests to look for atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries. A stress test involves monitoring the heart with an electrocardiogram or images before and after exercise. An angiogram, or cardiac catheterization, involves entering a blood vessel in the leg or wrist to pass instruments into the heart to directly visualize the coronary arteries. During this procedure, atherosclerosis can be treated by inflating a balloon or placing a metal stent in the coronary blood vessel to keep it open. If you and your doctor begin a treatment plan to prevent atherosclerosis at the first sign of ED, then you may significantly delay or prevent the need for these more invasive procedures.


A cold slice of watermelon can do more than just satisfy thirst and hunger during the warm summer months; it can help with bedroom satisfaction. Citrulline, the amino acid found in high concentrations of watermelon, is found to improve blood flow to the penis. A 2011 study revealed men who suffered from mild to moderate ED and took L-citrulline supplementation showed an improvement with their erectile function and were very satisfied. Natural watermelon juice, or “nature’s Viagra,” can also be easier on the stomach, since taking pills like Viagra can cause nausea and diarrhea.

Branded Viagra can now be bought over the counter in pharmacies, but please check with your GP first if you have a medical condition. It's important to use a reputable pharmacy, as there is a large market in counterfeit drugs for erectile dysfunction, especially over the internet. These contain varying amounts of the active ingredient and sometimes completely different drugs.


Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References After adjusting for age, vascular disease, psychiatric disease, hormonal factors, and marital status, a study of 4462 US Army veterans aged 31 to 49 years found an odds ratio of 1.8 for the risk of developing ED in men who smoked.26x26Mannino, DM, Klevens, RM, and Flanders, WD. Cigarette smoking: an independent risk factor for impotence?. Am J Epidemiol. 1994; 140: 1003–1008


Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (335) | Google ScholarSee all References Additionally, the presence of nephropathy has been correlated with onset of ED, as has the length of time the patient has had diabetes; most of these patients experience ED within 10 years of being diagnosed as having insulin-dependent or non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In the general population, the estimated relative risk of experiencing a myocardial infarction within 2 hours after sexual intercourse is approximately 2.5 times higher than the baseline infarction risk of that individual, which itself is extremely low8x8Muller, JE, Mittleman, A, Maclure, M, Sherwood, JB, Tofler, GH, and Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study Investigators. Triggering myocardial infarction by sexual activity: low absolute risk and prevention by regular physical exertion. JAMA. 1996; 275: 1405–1409
Physical and sexual activity can trigger acute cardiac events. In a recent meta-analysis, a significant association between acute cardiac events and episodic physical (relative risk 3.45 for myocardial infarction and 4.98 for sudden cardiac death) and sexual activity (relative risk 2.7 for myocardial infarction) was demonstrated.32 This association was attenuated among individuals with high levels of habitual physical activity (for every additional time per week the relative risk for myocardial infarction decreased by ∼45%, and the relative risk for sudden cardiac death decreased by 30%). The physical demands of sexual activity have been identified as follows. Studies conducted primarily in young married men showed that sexual activity with a person's usual partner is comparable with mild-to-moderate physical activity in the range of 3–4 metabolic equivalents of the task (METS).30,33 The heart rate rarely exceeds 130 b.p.m. and systolic blood pressure rarely exceeds 170 mmHg in normotensive individuals. Accordingly, demands during sexual activity correspond to walking 1.5 km (or 1 mile) on the flat in 20 min or briskly climbing two flights of stairs in 10 s. Generalization, however, may not characterize all individuals (especially those who are older, are less physically fit, or have CVD) or sexual activity circumstances (e.g. extramarital, unfamiliar setting, excessive food and alcohol consumption). Therefore, completing 4 min of the standard Bruce treadmill protocol (5–6 METS) without symptoms, ST segment changes, arrhythmias, or a fall in systolic BP identifies the safety of sexual activity.30,33
If you can't take one of these oral medications, your physician may have you try Caverject (alprostadil for injection), a hormone that you inject into your penis using a fine needle, or Muse (alprostadil urogenital), a tiny suppository that you insert into the tip of the penis. Both of these will bring on an erection within five to 15 minutes without sexual stimulation.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References However, if optimally treated with β-blockers, lipid-lowering agents, and aspirin, these patients have no significantly increased cardiovascular risk associated with sexual activity, although they should receive appropriate risk information.88x88Jackson, G. The use of sildenafil in heart disease [editorial]. Hosp Med. 2000; 61: 526–527
Ohlsson C,  Barrett-Connor E,  Bhasin S,  Orwoll E,  Labrie F,  Karlsson MK,  Ljunggren O,  Vandenput L,  Mellström D,  Tivesten A. High serum testosterone is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular events in elderly men. The MrOS (Osteoporotic Fractures in Men) study in Sweden, J Am Coll Cardiol , 2011, vol. 58 (pg. 1674-1681)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2011.07.019
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References The MMAS found the total prevalence of minimal to severe ED to be 52% and estimated that more than 617,000 new cases were expected to occur annually in the United States.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61

A similar situation develops in the fragile penile circulation. Any disturbance in nitric oxide production lowers the capacity to dilate penile arteries, impairing penile engorgement for erection. Release of nitric oxide is readily sabotaged by many conditions, including elevated levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, increased triglycerides, smoking, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and excessive consumption of dietary saturated fat.9 If an artery’s inner wall can’t produce nitric oxide, an abnormal constriction of the arteries to the penis follows, effectively choking off blood flow.
Before a man concludes that oral drugs don’t work for him, he should have his testosterone levels checked to rule out hormone deficiency as the cause of (or as a contributor to) his sexual dysfunction. Other symptoms of low testosterone include a low sex drive and infertility. Checking testosterone levels requires a blood test. If a man’s levels of testosterone are decreased or at the lower end of normal, his doctor may prescribe supplemental testosterone therapy, either as testosterone injections or testosterone gel, which is applied daily to the skin. In some cases, testosterone therapy alone can resolve sexual dysfunction, or it can be combined with the use of oral erectile dysfunction drugs.
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